350 Ward Avenue's 'Relaxation Parlors' Hot Spot for Prostitution, State Licensing Violations
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN AND JIM DOOLEY - Jana was 15 years old when her neighbor and friend convinced her to become a prostitute.
The stunning young girl lives in public housing and says her family desperately needed the money. Her mother works two jobs and cares for six children and her father is disabled and unemployed. Jana has learning disabilities and believed she could help to feed her family, who she said often went without meals because they could not afford food.
Jana’s recruiter, who was just her age, turned her over to a well-known pimp who controls several prostitutes in Honolulu. She says he supplied her with “ice” – methamphetamine -- to keep her awake around the clock. Jana would have sex or perform sex acts with as many as 30 men in a 24-hour period. Her pimp took total control of her life, taking her to hotels to rape her when she was not working.
In an exclusive interview with Hawaii Reporter, Jana, who just turned 17 and is now off the streets and back in high school, said up until last summer, she worked at a “relaxation parlor” called Rappongi, which is located in the heart of one of Hawaii’s premier shopping and restaurant districts at 350 Ward Avenue.
The neatly painted, two-story white commercial building looks like any other on the busy street, with a nail salon, mail drop, sports bar and lounge and pet store on the first floor. A privacy wall along the second floor obscures the parlors’ entrances and signage as well as the occasional girl who ventures outside to talk on the phone or smoke a cigarette.
Jana said at Rappongi the “mamasan” collects $50 at the door from male customers as they enter the dimly lit pink lounge, and they are directed to choose their girl from a line up. Afterward, the girl would take the customer to a back room, shower with him, and then offer him “relaxation services,” which Jana said included sex.
Though she had been promised she would be paid well, her pimp never allowed her to keep any compensation. She was expected to hand over $30 to the mamasan for each customer, and give her pimp the rest. If she hid any money and was caught, that would be considered a “capital crime” on the streets.
Kathryn Xian, head of the non-profit Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said as many as five brothels have operated over the last several years at 350 Ward Avenue where Jana was rescued by law enforcement last year.
She knows of at least two females forced to work as prostitutes in the relaxation parlors in that building, including Jana and a woman who was turned into a “sex slave” at Golden Queen by a violent pimp, Joseph “Joe Blo” Vaimili.
Records released by the Honolulu Police Department to Hawaii Reporter show there have been several prostitution arrests since 2005 at 350 Ward Avenue in Golden Queen and Rappongi.
In 2005, there were two prostitution arrests in Golden Queen, four arrests in 2006, two arrests in 2007 and one in 2011. One erotic web site that calls itself "Rub Map" with the invitation to "Find your happy ending", says Golden Queen offers "Korean" massage for $50 an hour.
In 2005 at Rappongi, which is advertised on another X-rated web site as an "erotic massage parlor that provides a beautiful beginning to a happy ending," there was one arrest in 2005, one arrest in 2007, and two arrests in 2011.
Both relaxation parlors also were cited numerous times for licensing violations for operating without a massage, beauty or cosmetology license: Golden Queen has been cited 15 times since 2005 and Rappongi 11 times.
Neighboring relaxation parlor, Pink, was cited four times since 2005 for license violations by the Honolulu Police Department.
Hawaii Reporter staff went to speak with the “mamasans” at all three locations last week. None of them would respond to in person inquiries.
One woman in Rappongi claimed not to speak English, but repeated several times after being questioned there are no “underage girls” working there. She promised to have someone call to answer our questions, and took our business card and contact information, but no one did.
The property under 350 Ward Avenue is owned by Victoria Ward Centers, a prominent Hawaii company that owns land under several shopping centers, theatres and restaurants in the Honolulu area.
A company controlled by prominent Hawaii lawyer Rick Fried has held the master lease for the building since the 1980s and subleases to a number of small businesses, including Rappongi, Golden Queen and Pink through his property manager, Nelson Jones.
Fried said he leaves tenant issues up to Jones, but added, “I don’t want shenanigans going on.”
Illegal activities in the building are “obviously inappropriate,” Fried said, referring further questions to property manager Jones.
Jones said he was unaware of any illegal activities at the 350 Ward building now, although there have been problems there before and he has evicted other tenants in the past.
“I have over 50 tenants to take care of,” Jones said.
“Unless they really get out of hand, I will terminate the lease, but as long as they pay the rent, behave themselves, that’s okay with me,” he continued.
“If I have reports from you or anybody else that there’s illegal activities or the police or if anybody else comes in, I’ll terminate the lease right away,” said Jones.
The “relaxation centers” cannot offer massage services without a license from the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Records of that department show businesses operating at 350 Ward Avenue have repeatedly been cited and fined for licensing violations.
In 2005, federal agents and police raided one business in that building called “350 Relaxation,” arresting nine female Korean immigrants who were employed there and charging the owner, Wan Yo “Hannah” Kang, on felony charges of interstate promotion of prostitution.
Kang pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.
In 2006, police, federal agents and state licensing investigators staged four simultaneous raids of four relaxation parlors at 350 Ward Avenue, arresting six women on suspicion of prostitution and licensing violations.
A police major noted at the time that various agencies had investigated the businesses at different times in the past, but this time “we decided to pool our resources,” according to a Honolulu Advertiser news story.
In 2007, Honolulu Police Department officers raided Golden Queen twice in nice months, according to a Hawaii News Now report.
While local and federal law enforcement have made several busts at 350 Ward Avenue in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011, according to police records and personal stories, the relaxation parlors continue to operate openly.
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